by Robin L. Flanigan
Internationally lauded for photography that explores stereotypes, sexism, and the dynamics of power, Margaret LeJeune ’98 is making her current project more personal than usual.
With a focus on female mariners, she is capturing images of shipbuilders, delivery captains, boat residents, and cruisers—all while touring part of the Atlantic coast on the 37-foot sailboat she and her husband, Jeffrey Kosiorek, bought this past February.
“My work is about how I can use photography to break down the way we usually perceive women,” explained the former studio art major, “and also to empower women who are doing things that are slightly off the beaten path and traditionally thought to be more masculine positions.”
On her cell phone from the boat, anchored in a Chesapeake Bay tributary outside St. Mary’s City, Maryland, LeJeune talked about referring to herself as a fine art photographer rather than a documentarian. For Modern-Day Diana, perhaps her most well-known project, she photographed women hunters in their homes or other personal spaces with animal pelts, guns, ribbons, and other images that capture a sense of identity and place. The project won numerous awards (LeJeune is most proud of it being selected by Museum of Modern Art curator Roxana Marcoci for a 2010 Curator’s Choice Award at Center, a nonprofit photography advocacy organization in Santa Fe, New Mexico), has been exhibited all over the world, and was featured on Slate.com (see the article).
Her other work includes A Far Cry, which explores a sexist paradigm about crying (men who do are often emasculated, while women are accepted because they’re considered more emotional and weaker), and The Mismeasurement of Woman, a series expressing the struggle to break free from what society believes to be the definition of beauty.
An assistant professor of photography at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, and an active member of the Society for Photographic Education, LeJeune has adapted well to the mariner lifestyle. Despite the occasional foul weather and boat maintenance issues, there’s a sense of liberation that comes with letting the seasons dictate “when and where you can go and how you live,” she noted. “The 9-to-5 schedule we’re used to is a constructed Western lifestyle, but we have the ability individually to break that down. We have the freedom of choice.” (She and her husband maintain a blog at returntoseasons.com.)
Given that most of her projects span years, this particular one is in its infancy. She imagines another trip to the East Coast next year, and plans to live aboard while on an 18-month sabbatical, roughly in two years.
“We sometimes support and enforce awful stereotypes ourselves when we’re not willing to step outside our comfort zone and beyond,” she says. “I don’t want to make work that is a sentence with a period at the end; I want it to raise more questions than it answers. I want men who see the work to say, ‘Oh, women are doing these things and it’s not what I thought they would look like.’ And I hope to show women what is possible.”
Robin L. Flanigan is a freelance writer in Rochester, New York.